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If I'm pinning a theme on the first half of the 2021 NFL season, it's been the Year of the Career Revitalized Veteran! A bunch of experienced players, who, for different reasons, have spent most of their careers being overlooked, are playing insanely good football. 

The five biggest revitalized veterans are highlighted below.

We have not seen many Stubrick Stares from Derek Carr this season. Dude looks reinvigorated on the field! His 8.5 yards-per-attempt average is not only sixth in the NFL among qualifying quarterbacks, but it's also a career high by a wide margin. The next statistic tells the story of how Carr has advanced as a passer more than any: according to Pro Football Focus, Carr's "big-time throw" rate is 8.5%, the third-highest figure in the NFL. In 2020, his BTT rate was 6.7%. In 2019? Only 3.2%. And in any season before that Carr never reached a big-time throw percentage of 5.5%. Even when the Raiders went 12-4 in 2016, it was 5.3%. 

In short, Carr has shed his timid persona as a passer. His average depth of target this season is 9.2 yards! That's a high number for any quarterback, and it's almost unrecognizable from the Carr we've witnessed since 2014. He's getting downfield opportunities, taking them, and connecting more frequently than ever before. No wonder the Raiders are currently 11th in Football Outsiders' pass offense DVOA

What's good, too -- Carr isn't force-feeding the ball to elite tight end Darren Waller, which happened too often a season ago. The always-open Hunter Renfrow actually leads the team in catches (38), Henry Ruggs leads in yards (499), and four pass catchers have two touchdown grabs.

This breakout isn't completely from the depths of obscurity. In 2020, after being reinstated by the NFL following a substance abuse policy suspension in 2019, Randy Gregory generated 25 pressures on 182 pass-rushing snaps for a solid rate of 13.7%. But this year, Gregory has gone scorched earth on every offensive line he's faced, as 22 of his 136 rushes to date have resulted in a pressure. That's 16.1%. And the wins have been epic -- ask Mac Jones

Even with DeMarcus Lawrence out and added attention toward his side of the line, Gregory's production hasn't dipped. The former Nebraska star who, after a failed drug test at the combine, landed in the second round of the 2015 draft and had multiple drug-related suspensions in the NFL, has rebounded in a tremendous way for the 5-1 Cowboys, a club that ranked 23rd in defensive DVOA a season ago and sits in 10th heading into Week 8. 

Chidobe Awuzie, another former Cowboys second-round pick, has blossomed with the Bengals. He has seven pass breakups and a pick in six games played in 2021. He's surrendered just 28 receptions for 253 yards -- nine yards per grab -- on 52 targets in his coverage area. That's stingy. 

And Awuzie is not just flourishing against backups. A boundary cornerback by trade, Awuzie has spent most of his time covering the likes of Justin Jefferson, Allen Robinson, Davante Adams, and a combination of Marquise Brown and first-round pick Rashod Bateman in Week 7 during the Bengals' convincing win over the Ravens

Not that it's only him, but Cincinnati has gone from 27th in pass defense DVOA in 2020 to eighth at time of publication. Awuzie's been a star on the perimeter for the current No. 1 seed in the AFC.  

De'Vondre Campbell has been an overlooked linebacker for nearly his entire NFL career outside of his rookie season, when he started for Atlanta in the Super Bowl. Because after that year, the Falcons took a step backward, as most Super Bowl teams do, and it was a club not carried by its defense in the first place.

Campbell is a 6-4, 232-pound hulking linebacker who ran a speedy 4.58 in the 40-yard dash at his combine and had 90 or more tackles in Atlanta in his second, third, and fourth seasons there. Actually, after a 129-tackle, three-forced fumble, two-pick, five-pass breakup 2019, the Falcons decided to let him test the free-agent market. 

He was again super-solid with his new team, the Cardinals, in 2020, but apparently not good enough to earn a new deal. In Green Bay, more people are starting to take notice of the unique talents he brings to the second level of a defense. Campbell is averaging a career high 9.86 tackles per contest and already has two picks, three pass breakups, and a pair of forced fumbles in seven contests. He's playing with serious range and keen instincts on inside run plays. The Packers, finally, have an impact linebacker! 

Cordarrelle Patterson has become a fantasy darling in a hurry, saving the seasons for hundreds of thousands of fantasy squadrons who added him off the waiver wire in September. 

At last, the former first-round pick is being utilized in his rightful position, running back, and the skills he learned during his time spent at receiver have made him one of the league's most truly versatile offensive weapons. Patterson is on pace -- yes, I'm using an on-pace stat -- for 660 yards on 156 carries and 838 receiving yards on just under 77 receptions. Damn good. 

Patterson has already set a career high in rushing yards, and he's on track to obliterate his previous career high in receiving. At 30 years old. Good for him. And good for your fantasy team, too, if you spent enough on that claim about a month ago. 

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